From the Beer Writer: Last year, San Diego’s longest tenured Post-Prohibition-Era brewing operation, Karl Strauss Brewing Company, earned big-time bragging rights, being named the Mid-Sized Brewing Company of the Year at the most prestigious brewing competition in the country, the Great American Beer Festival (GABF). Held annually in Denver, Colorado, the competition garners thousands of entries from breweries in all 50 states (so many that, this year, each brewing location is limited to a maximum of four competition beers). Those ales and lagers are evaluated by high-caliber industry professionals and certified judges to ensure reliable results, lending deserved credibility that ups the value of GABF medals. Karl Strauss’s champion designation came as a result of winning four medals in 2016, including a gold in one of the most hotly-contested style categories—American-Style Sour Ale. That went to Karl Strauss Queen of Tarts, a stallion in Uncle Karl’s sour stable that has been refined over the years and comes on strong with assertive tartness given luxurious body and layering care of heavy oaken toastiness. Next weekend, Karl Strauss will attempt to repeat at this year’s edition of GABF (check our site next Saturday for a list of local award winners) and this beer will surely be among its entries, but it doesn’t need precious metal to register as a winner on the palate. Head to the company’s tasting room or any of its five local restaurants for a taste of certified gold.
From the Brewer: “Queen of Tarts is our dark sour ale with lightly roasted malts, dark fruit flavors and a nice, tart finish. We age it in American oak barrels with Michigan tart cherries for six months. It’s always been a favorite around the brewery, and we were stoked that the GABF judges loved it as much as we do. We feel very fortunate to have had such a great showing at GABF last year and to be recognized for beers across a wide variety of styles, especially to take home the gold in such a highly-competitive category as [American-Style Sour Ale]. It really shows the versatility of our team of brewers.”—Paul Segura, Brewmaster, Karl Strauss Brewing Company
Earlier this month a for-lease sign went up beside the signage for Little Miss Brewing’s much-anticipated tasting room on Ocean Beach’s Newport Avenue. The conversion of the site’s interior into a French World War II-themed sampling space is roughly halfway complete and the company’s logo has been mounted outside, making this an unexpected turn of events for everyone, including owners Greg and Jade Malkin. The marrieds behind this Miramar-based company’s satellite project have been paying rent on the space since last December and, in the time it has taken to attempt to obtain approval from the local faction of the California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC), have opened another tasting room in Normal Heights. But the ABC process for their would-be OB interest has been nothing short of a bureaucratic nightmare.
The Malkins submitted their ABC application for the OB tasting room a week after sending the same paperwork for the Normal Heights project. Early on, things went as expected, including receipt of protests during the 30-day period when residents are allowed to formally raise issues. The majority of the protests were rescinded once the Malkins reached out to the individuals who had initiated them. What the Malkins were unaware of, however, is that a private meeting had been held without their notification or knowledge in late-April—outside of the public-protest period—between ABC supervisors, representatives of the San Diego Police Department (SDPD), a State Assembly member and additional OB residents not in favor of the tasting room. ABC representatives claimed the meeting was not specifically about Little Miss, but rather all tasting-room licenses pending on Newport Avenue, but Little Miss’ was the only license of that type pending at the time. The negatives that came out of that meeting, where the project was scrutinized without the applicants being able to defend their business, followed the Little Miss project file through its lifespan without the Malkins even knowing. But this constitutes only a portion of the obstacles.
While the Malkins respect the job and authority of the ABC and appreciate the hard-working nature of ABC employees, they echo the opinion of most (including ABC employees) that the department and its local offices are severely understaffed during this time of unprecedented brewery openings. During the many months they spent trying to open the OB tasting room, meetings with ABC agents typically yielded little in the way of concrete answers or reliable advice. Often, one agent would contradict the other. In the cases where they agreed, other governmental factions saw things differently. Additionally, the Malkins were told to call ABC reps at different offices as well as various individuals at the City of San Diego offices and SDPD. Most calls went unanswered, as did requests for information.
The key piece of info they coveted during the process were crime logs. During a meeting with the ABC on July 20, the Malkins were shown a letter from the SDPD dated June 29 stating it would not support the issuance of Little Miss’ OB license. The reason: the neighborhoods the Western Patrol Division serves (Ocean Beach, Hillcrest, La Playa, Linda Vista, Loma Portal, Midtown, Midway District, Mission Hills, Mission Valley West, Morena, Old Town, Point Loma Heights, Roseville-Fleetridge, Sunset Cliffs, University Heights and “Wooded Area”) had experienced an overall increase in crime and could not handle another ABC license issued in the area. The ABC said they would not go against the SDPD’s recommendation because they felt it was impossible to change their opinion. Determined to give that a try on their own, the Malkins asked to see the crime reports for the aforementioned communities. The ABC had those reports, but said they were not allowed to provide them to the Malkins, and directed them to obtain the data from the City. They attempted to do so, but after more unanswered calls, ended up downloading the information they needed from the City of San Diego’s website instead.
Through this fact-finding exercise, they discovered that, although alcohol-related crime had gone up in the Western Patrol Division’s patrol area as a whole, it had gone down in OB by a whopping 40% since the November 2014 introduction of the neighborhood’s first brewery tasting room—Culture Brewing Company on Newport Avenue. Also, the number-one alcohol-related crime in OB is open-container violations, primarily on the beach. They presented this information to multiple City Councilmembers, the Mayor’s office and ABC, even going so far as to waive Little Miss’ ability to sell packaged beer or growlers to go, but never received an answer. The final straw was a call earlier this week when the Malkins say it seemed like someone at the ABC had decided they were going to deny the license long ago—possibly as far back as the meeting that they weren’t given the opportunity to attend—but nobody wanted to be the bearer of bad news. It prompted them to officially pull the plug on the OB project.
This drama isn’t the only turbulence for the company, which last week parted ways with the only brewmaster it has known during its first year of existence. This seems a much easier hurdle to get over than ABC issues. Former Green Flash Brewing Company brewer Joe Lisica spearheaded brewery and tasting room construction and beer production for Little Miss. His desire was to create clean, clear beers, including an assortment of single-malt-and-single-hop (SMASH) beers. While quality was never an issue and ownership appreciated Lisica and his beers, their vision for Little Miss’ portfolio was vastly different, leading to an amicable parting of ways. Mike Morbitzer, a fellow Green Flash alum Lisica hired as his assistant, has been promoted to brewmaster and will be responsible for reshaping Little Miss’ offerings to match the Malkin’s desires, which includes more new-school beers such as hazy IPAs and beers brewed with fruits and other adjuncts across varying styles. Meanwhile, Lisica is taking a brief hiatus from the industry to contemplate his next move, while entertaining offers from companies in need of his services.
Little Miss’ business model from the get-go has been to open six satellite tasting rooms under their manufacturing license, focusing on unsaturated neighborhoods — besides the planned OB location. The Malkins are leery of filing through the San Diego office again. A local ABC agent advised them to apply in La Mesa, a municipality that only recently began encouraging brewing companies to lay down stakes, but they will also likely look north once they have some time to gain some distance and lick their wounds.
The City of Encinitas has a history of staunch resistance toward beer manufacturers looking to set up shop within its boundaries. It’s where prestigious brewer Jeff Bagby (who has roots in Encinitas) and his wife initially sought to set up his acclaimed brewpub, Bagby Beer Company before a property that was much more attractive than the idea of embarking on Encinitas’ difficult permitting process led them to select Oceanside instead. The move has paid off as Bagby Beer’s opening fell in line with an overall food-and-beverage renaissance in Oceanside that has included establishment of several other brewing interests in the years since. Meanwhile, Encinitas is one of only four municipalities (out of 18 in San Diego County) without a single brewery in a county awash with local beer. (There was brewpub called The Red Kettle that operated along then First Street in the early-nineties, but it was very short-lived.) That will change to an extent, however, as the city is on track to welcome multiple brewery-owned tasting rooms.
Culture Brewing Company has a 1,048-square-foot tasting room in the works. That spot is scheduled to open at 629 South Coast Highway on August 12. The smallish nature of that venue seems to have been key in getting approval from the City’s Planning Commission, which granted the Solana Beach-based business permit approval in January.
When approached by Point Loma-based Modern Times Beer about a vastly larger satellite project—a space capable of holding approximately 150 people at a time—the commission stiffened once more. So much so that Modern Times put out an email blast to its consumers asking them to come to a City meeting held last week to voice their support for the project and help sway the Planning Commission’s vote. A substantial number of fans attended, vocally going toe-to-toe with Encinitas residents opposing the project. In the end, it would seem that maneuver resulted in Modern Times gaining the razor-thin voting edge that will lead to the permit approval they so desperately coveted. Located at 470 South Coast Highway across from the iconic La Paloma Theatre, that venue is estimated to open next year.
Further north in Leucadia (which is within and under the jurisdiction of the City of Encinitas), Miramar-based Saint Archer Brewery aims to install a tasting room in a space between beer bar The Regal Seagull and Surfy Surfy surf shop. If approved, it will be the first satellite venue from the macro-beer interest, which was purchased by MillerCoors in 2015 after just over two years in business. The newest of the proposed brewery-owned ventures in Encinitas, it has yet to inspire as much concern from the City or its residents as Culture and Modern Times. Instead, the main opponents are from craft beer fans who eschew Big Beer and the recent string of craft acquisitions.
It would seem City officials take cues from their constituents when attempting to defend their community from beer manufacturers. There is a vocal percentage of Encinitas citizens who are concerned that their city, particularly the commercial stretch of Coast Highway in the downtown core, is over-saturated with alcohol-centric hospitality venues. That is a matter of opinion, but even if one shares that point of view, City government permitted those booze businesses in the first place, including a wine-making facility, Solterra Winery and Kitchen, not far from Saint Archer’s proposed location in Leucadia. If Encinitas’ portion of the 101 resembles Pacific Beach’s Garnett Avenue as the City and its people fear, it would seem that municipal government has no one but themselves to blame.
When Little Miss Brewing was putting its business plan, that road map was unlike those of other fermentation-based entrepreneurs in San Diego County. A brewery with a Type 23 license may apply for duplicate licenses to open additional retail venues, something numerous operations do via satellite tasting rooms. Little Miss owners Greg and Jade Malkin decided early on to make their satellites the workhorses of their business. At first, they weren’t even going to install a tasting room at their Miramar headquarters, instead saving that space exclusively for production. A number of obstacles and delays forced them to change their mind at the eleventh hour and construct a tasting room in Miramar during the week leading up to their debut last summer. But on Thursday, June 8 the first of their two work-in-progress satellites will debut at 3514 Adams Avenue in Normal Heights, transforming the company into what the Malkins envisioned when they decided to enter the San Diego brewing scene.
Little Miss’ branding revolves around fun, games…and World War II. It’s not the most natural pairing, but a visit to the Miramar tasting room is sort of like hitting up the USO; cinder blocks, munitions containers and military posters let you know where you are, but the overarching mood is one of jovial relaxation. The idea with each of the satellites is to assign them an individual thematic inspired by one of the US’ WWII Allies.
An upcoming tasting room in Ocean Beach will give a nod to France, while its Normal Heights predecessor will honor the United Kingdom. That thematic is driven home by a Union Jack flag painted on the ceiling, British wartime propaganda posters painted on the walls and an outdoor mural by local artist, Leroy Davis. Another local, Kelly Hutchison, will also have pinup paintings on display, bringing in a bit of ’40s-era Americana, while the spirit of the neighborhood will come in care of a giant picture of Winston Churchill dressed as a hipster.
The 1,000-square-foot Normal Heights space has a bar-top made from bullet casings giving way to a vintage cash register and 16 taps dispensing Little Miss beers. On the recreation front, the venue has board and card games, Jenga, dart boards and four televisions. It will be open from noon to 10 p.m. Monday through Thursday, Saturdays from noon to midnight and Sundays from noon to 8 p.m. Sites have not been selected for future satellite tasting rooms, but the Malkins say the next Allied country they select will likely be the former Soviet Union.
After several years in operation, Kensington Brewing Company gained a name for itself last January when it opened its brewery and tasting room to the public. There was just one oddity—that tasting room is in Grantville versus the business’ namesake community. Owner Zack Knipe lives in Kensington and has wanted to set up shop there from the beginning, but was forced to compromise to bring his vision to fruition. But over the past year, he’s kept his eyes open for a space. One day, a sign went up in the iconic Kensington Video storefront and he pounced on it—along with a number of other suitors for that space. In the end, he won out and soon his brewery’s name will make sense. He knows he has big shoes to fill, supplanting a hometown business of nearly four decades, but thinks his goods have the goods to do right by Kensington and hopes his new venue becomes a hub for the community he harbors so much affinity for.
West Coaster: What factors made it difficult to setup shop in Kensington?
Zack Knipe: “Downtown” Kensington is an amazing place, but it just isn’t that big. Most of the businesses on the block have been operating for a very long time, so it limits the amount of real estate available for newcomers. Only a couple of opportunities to establish a tasting room on the block have come up over the past four years, and there was heavy competition for those locations. It was difficult! There were a lot of really good businesses competing for our new location, and we pushed very hard to make sure we got the opportunity this time.
WC: What’s so special about the Kensington community?
ZK: As part of my proposal to lease the Ken Video space, I wrote the owners a letter that talked about how I first found Kensington. I am from a small town in Northern California and came to San Diego to attend USD. Go Toreros! San Diego was such a big city to me that I always envisioned returning to NorCal. Part of my college coursework had me taking some cinema classes. One of the only places in the city to find foreign films or less mainstream films was Kensington Video. During my many trips out to the video store to pick up class materials, I explored the neighborhood and saw that it really has that small-town vibe in a big city. Long story short, being a part of a community like that means a lot to me. It has been where I wanted to raise my family and grow my business for a very long time. Sixteen years later, not only do we have the opportunity to be a local business, but also to setup in a space that first brought me here.
WC: How do you plan to convert this iconic space to fit your needs?
ZK: Our brewing operations will continue in our current facility in Grantville. We wanted to make sure we are able to have as much room as possible for the community to not only come in and enjoy a great beer, but host an event or community gathering. We will have a large amount of both bar and table seating, and we intend to be as kid-friendly as possible. The space also has a great audiovisual system we hope to use to show some of Ken Video’s classic collection. I don’t want to give everything away, but, aesthetically, we are aiming to have some historic Kensington elements blended with the Spanish and Craftsman-style architecture seen throughout the neighborhood.
WC: What’s the plan for the Grantville brewery?
ZK: We originally ended up in Grantville to stay as close to Kensington as possible. Being right down the hill from the neighborhood, we felt we would still serve it. In the process, we learned what great people we have in Allied Gardens, Del Cerro, Talmadge, Normal Heights and a lot of other nearby communities. Many of our regulars love the vibe that we have going in our current tasting room. In the short term, with our current staff, we will solely produce beer in Grantville while retaining the current setup for special events, using our Kensington location as our main tasting room. In the long-term, we hope to reopen the Grantville tasting room with some permanent hours.
WC: When do you expect to open the new location?
ZK: All of our paperwork is currently being reviewed with the ABC and we are awaiting our posting, which we hope to receive in the next couple of weeks. It is ambitious, but if everything goes as planned, we would like to be open in July. We want to thank everyone who has supported us over the four years it’s taken to get to this point. We look forward to more fun times to come!